Showing posts with label Phobjikha. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Phobjikha. Show all posts

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Druk Diaries: An experience of a lifetime

During January 2015 when I first mentioned that I think we should drive to Bhutan, the family's response was cautious. I think they initially though that I was joking and they let it pass. As day came nearer, I started preparing for it. Slowly everybody was on board.
The original plan was to start the trip in second week of April, but my family has to be in Delhi during first week of April. We decided that they will directly join me in Kolkata and I will drive from Bengaluru to Kolkata alone. My all the road trips have been with family and this was the first time when I was planning on driving more than 1500 kilometers alone.
You can find the total trip map above. We reached Bhutan by taking east coast of India and then came through central India. The total distance of the trip was upwards of 7700 kilometers and total fuel consumed was more than 850 liters. I did not keep track of total toll paid for this trip but it must be more than Rs. 4000/-.
Here is the detailed account of the trip.

  1. Prologue
  2. Bhutan Road Trip Process
  3. Day   1 : Bengaluru to Rajahmundry
  4. Day   2 : Rajahmundry to Kolkata
  5. Day   3 : Kolkata to Asansol
  6. Day   4 : Asansol to Siliguri with blessing from Baba Vaidyanath of Deoghar
  7. Day   5 : Arriving in Bhutan, Siliguri to Thimphu via Phuentsholling
  8. Day   6 : Permit Extension, Thimphu sightseeing
  9. Day   7 : Thimphu local attractions and Dochu La
  10. Day   8 : Thimphu to Trongsa via Punakha
  11. Day   9 : Trongsa local attractions
  12. Day 10 : Trongsa to Bumthang and Bumthang local attractions
  13. Day 11 : Bumthang to Phobjikha and chillout at Phobjikha
  14. Day 12 : Phobjikha to Thimphu, personalized stamps at Thimphu GPO
  15. Day 13 : Thimphu to Paro, Paro Dzong
  16. Day 14 : Taktsang Lhakhang or Tiger's Nest, a great trek
  17. Day 15 : Chele La, Haa and Paro Market
  18. Day 16 : Return journey, Paro to Purnea
  19. Day 17 : Return journey, Purnea to Kanpur
  20. Day 18 : Return journey, Kanpur to Bhopal
  21. Day 19-22 : Break at Bhopal, Fixes to the car
  22. Day 23 : Return Journey, Bhopal to Bengaluru
This trip was a test of endurance for us, all of us in the family, which we passed with flying colors. Many times it was tough, particularly during that dark, rainy night of drive to Trongsa, when we had no idea whether we were even on right path or the final day of drive when we decided to do Bhopal to Bengaluru without taking at break. At around 12:30 AM when I was really sleepy, my wife, who doesn't prefer to drive in night, offered to drive and that hour and half of drive by her made it easier for us to reach without taking too much risk.
Before this trip, the maximum that we had driven in a day was approximately 985 kilometers, i.e. Pune to Mount Abu. Now it stands at 1500+ kilometers.

If I were to do it again
If I were to do it again, I would probably modify the itinerary as follows.
  1. Do Dochu La as part of drive to Punakha and stay in Punakha
  2. Do Trongsa in day time and continue and stay in Bumthang
  3. Move Paro to start of the trip
  4. Couple of days extra for Mongar and Trashigang, 1 day to Mongar 1 day in Trashigang and then exit via Samdrup Jongkhar
Because of under construction roads, drive to east is specifically painful in Bhutan currently. It is very difficult to drive long distances across West-East highway. If locals were to be believed, it would probably 2-4 years before things would become better.

Lessons Learnt
  • How important are your own tools in the car. The puncture guys whom I found on highway neither had spanner nor jack that would fit my car.
  • It is very important to have a pump in your car. With a slow leaking tire, my trip would have been very difficult if I did not have pump with me to fill it up
Thanks are in order
This trip would have been much harder to plan and execute if not for the support of many friends on HVK Forum on facebook including but not limited to Rajneesh Khare for all the help around central india,  Sandipan Mallick for all the help around east specifically Kolkata and Asansol and showing a friendly face in hotel, Panduranga Kudige Shenoy for helping me finalize the Deoghar route, Kumar HV for all the guidance, direction and help and everbody who is working with HVK Central Hotel Desk
If I missed somebody, it is not intentional, I am thankful for any help extended by anybody that helped me make this trip successful.
Finally thanks are in order to my wife and daughter for agreeing and putting up with the madness of being on the road for more than 20 days.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Druk Diaries: Day 12 - Phobjikha to Thimphu

We were up early and ready to leave the hotel. As usual, the bills were settled in the night. Everything was still closed. We got into our car, got ourselves out of the gate and we were on our way to Thimphu.

As per our original itinerary, we were not planning on going to Thimphu again but after cancelling our trip to towns beyond Bumthang and the fact that we still had unfinished business to take care of in Thimphu required us to come back to town.
Following were the two main items that needed to be taken care of in Thimphu.

  1. We realized that our original permit extensions did not cover Haa Valley. We needed another permit extension for that.
  2. During our earlier stay, we could not get personalized postal stamps done. We had always thought that we will do.
4:30 AM We were out of the compounds of the hotel and on our way.

5:20 AM We crossed the first construction zone at Nobding. 

6:30 AM Encountered the first instance of what one could call the road rage in Bhutan. One can see in the video below, why Bhutan is happiest country. The truck driver rear-ended the car. See the conversation, how civil it is.
The only problem was, when I asked them to move their vehicles to side, I was told that we have to wait till police shows up for evidence. Somehow I squeezed my vehicle through the mess.
8:00 AM Just in time, before the construction work started, we were out of construction zone. In that sense the plan of starting early worked. We stopped at the cafe at Dochu La again for breakfast and may be some more photographs.

9:25 AM We were at Hungtsho checkpost. They will take back the stamped original permit extension. So if you want to save it for souvenir, then it is better to take a picture before this.
We drove into thimphu town and straight went to GPO. We thought we can do the personalized stamp business out of our way and then we can check in to our hotel. We has reached Thimphu earlier than the check-in time.

There are many countries that do personalized stamp, even India does it. But in India, you can choose an existing stamp and have your photo affixed to the next to it. Compared to that the Bhutan personalized stamps are just your picture. These are also valid postage.
See on the right, the postage in a letter that we posted to our own address. it was delivered by the time we reached back home and it is duly postmarked.
With that taken care of, we drove to the immigration office. I reconfirmed whether I need permit for Haa valley and I was told yes. So I again went through the process, applied for it and then I was told to come back in hour.
At this time we decided to go back and check in to hotel and freshen up. We stayed in Le Meridien. Here is my review of the hotel.
The rest of the evening was spent in collecting the permit extension, getting RSTA endorsement for new permit extension and leisurely walk across the Thimphu town. I found Thimphu to be a extremely walking friendly town and I enjoyed walking there.
Finally we came back to the hotel for dinner and called it a night.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Druk Diaries: Day 11 - Bumthang to Phobjikha

While our drive from Thimphu to Trongsa, we had encountered several construction zones where traffic was stopped based on a time table. We were not convinced that we can escape the road blockade. So we decided to do the return journey in two stretches. The idea was to reach as close to construction zone as possible and then next day start really early so we can escape all construction activity before it starts.

So we chose Phobjikha valley because we could find a decent hotel there.

5:20 AM We decided to depart really early. Whole staff of the hotel was still asleep. As promised, let left the key in the hotel room, opened the gate and exited the hotel.
We had planned our departure in such a way so that by the time we reach Trongsa, breakfast service in Yangkhil resort would be open and we can do breakfast there.
7:25 AM We reached Yangkhil resort.
8:10 AM We left Yangkhil Resort and in a short span of time, we crossed the Bjeezam checkpost. This is the same checkpost which we had encountered late at night couple of nights back.

As we were driving, we saw this board for Chendeyji Resort. We just thought to check it out and may be have a tea.

9:35 AM The place is really good. When we reached they only had tea ready. So we just had the tea and started our onwards journey. If you are travelling with family, both Yangkhil Resort and Chendeyji resort have clean restrooms.
Now we were all set to continue our journey till the destination.
The next milestone was Pele La. In our eastward journey earlier, we completely missed the Pele La because it was already dark by the time we reached. Also we were so anxious to reach the destination that we pretty much did not pay any attention to anything.
Pele La is another pass at an height of approximately 3400 mts. Just after Pele La, the road to Phobjikha valley forks off.
The road into phobjikha valley is just about a dirt road. The town is a sleepy little town with nothing mapped even on google map. We just drove around and finally found our destination for the night, i.e. Hotel Dewachen. We did not find any other place worth staying. The caretaker almost behaved as if he is doing us a favor by offering us a room. Here is our review of the property.
The view of the valley from the property is amazing. You can see nature in its full glory.

We tool a little walk, rested for a while, had a dinner and called it an early night since we had to start early next day with a hope that we will cross all the construction activity before its start time i.e. 8 AM.